Snowballs and Avalanches pt II

I’m not stuck up, I’m buried deep

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I wanted to throw some graphs up here from my budget. I hopped on the laptop, opened spreadsheets, and started a text document for the blog. I got dug in, and there was so much to discuss that my blog veered completely off track. So, I’m back on my phone as usual to get this rant out of the way. Which means that there is a part 3 with even more juicy budgeting details coming down the pipeline. 

So, I have to say that it works out well to be an Uber-Lyft-er. I would even be so bold as to claim that it’s the most socially responsible thing that’s happened to transportation since seat belts became required by law. I think the biggest challenge to that claim is by this blogger under the heading Availability. So Uber has a large fleet? It’s going to cause congestion? First off, if you haven’t experienced the pure joy of a school’s compete lack of organized traffic flow, you need to do that and include them in your traffic regulating plans. I have a long history in transportation, and if you want to know the biggest clog in the interstate to dump the Draino on, I can mathematically derive the proof that it’s the semi trucks that need it. Although I hope the image of a triple-trailer truck trying to merge out of an ending lane during rush hour is putting it simply enough, because that kind of math act would take us through Laplace-land and things get a little weird over there.  

To refute the traffic jam potential, let’s first have a look at the profiles of drivers. How many of those drivers are driving the vehicle to and from work, only logging on for the commute? Those are the 9 to 5 -ers that probably value their desk job but just need to ease the burden of car payments. Whether consciously or not, those drivers are relieving traffic congestion, even if only by one vehicle every other day. This driver contributes to road congestion whether he or she is logged onto Uber or not, except they also reduce traffic congestion when accepting a ride. Next profile in case is the Uber parent. Go moms and dads! This driver has responsibilities, and chances are they choose to drive because they don’t want to miss out on their children’s growing up. The Uber parent is often the driver you’ll get at 4:45 am, burning the other end of their candle. These drivers then come back home to get kids dressed and fed just as the morning rush hour starts to set in. Uber parent might walk their child to school or see them off on the bus, then hit the road. Once school lets out, odds are that Uber parent is doing what the desk job parents can’t: spend time with the children. One more driver profile to investigate is the part time, party time driver. This young driver loves to party, and to Uber his or her party peeps home safely might satisfy a budding sense of responsibility on top of giving them a little more to party with on their non-driving weekends. Ridesharing is also a great way to keep up with events and new venues. This driver is probably also allergic to single digit am hours, and unless there is good reason to do so, also avoids rush hour like the plague. 

Ubiquitous aspects of ride sharers that contradict jamming include simple competency, efficiency algorithms, and the fact that an appreciable portion of rides are being split among friends that would have otherwise driven two or three separate cars. Okay, so Google Maps and Waze are in stiff competition for the shittiest app you could have to use. I love to hate them, really. As for picking the best routes, I have to admit I rarely pull off beating their estimated fastest route without a questionable maneuver. Speaking of competition, we drivers sure know how to work it. I would say that any driver worth his salt instinctively knows the traffic patterns of the city and how to get to key locations the quickest. I know I better not take the interstate to the airport at 3:30, and even if Sandy to 82nd does take a bit longer there is a piece of mind for rider and driver both that we aren’t juking in and out of lanes of stalled and speeding traffic. When I don’t have a rider, I work extra hard to get away from traffic. Clearly, I can’t pick someone up in 5 min if I’m stuck between freeway exits going an average 0.35mph. Ride share drivers are just as opposed to sitting in traffic as anyone else! 

One last point and I will leave it alone, I promise. The Dreaded Surge Pricing! I’m sorry that riders get hit with it out of nowhere and feel duped. However, understand that it’s much like the weather. Too much to pay? Walk or wait 10 min. Drivers: don’t chase the surge! I know, I even catch myself doing it. Dont! Oh, you did anyway? How did that work out for ya? Thought so. Surge pricing schemes are exactly the force needed to reduce traffic density in the first place. Who the hell decided that 5:00 pm is the hour to cut it off and go jump in traffic? That’s what causes traffic jams! Now if more people were inclined to stay an extra 15 or 30 min to actually complete their tasks and not get charged 2.5x the going rate, wouldn’t that just ease the whole situation up? 

So, now that I got that out of the way, I have to explain my first claim of social responsibility. Car dealerships are going the way of the dinosaur. I have been seeing all sorts of changes in this city, especially transportation. Car lots are going under left and right. Public transit is slowly but surely expanding. Zip-Car made a remarkable first step in the right direction, with Car2Go right on its heels, and now Reach Connect. The fact is that owning a vehicle is not the romance of the road that car companies have made it out to be. It is a piece of equipment that has things like upfront cost, operating cost, and maintenance costs. Any large machine costs money to have and more money to use. For decades, the manufacturing world has revolved around maximizing the profits from each piece of equipment. Downtime is expensive. I challenge many of my young, car-less commuters to do the math and consider whether owning a vehicle makes sense or not. There are more and more people realizing that it’s actually cheaper to rideshare than to own a vehicle. 

 I think P-town’s Trimet is about one of the best in the country, but holy crap is it ever still the most unreliable way to get around. Many employers are not accessible via Trimet and many more will not hire people stuck depending on the bus. Smart companies, however, provide their employees free Trimet passes and use ridesharing for backup when a bus or light rail fails to show up. A lot of people already do this out of their own pocket, and the more public transit is used the more vehicles are not jamming the highways. The more ridesharing is considered the public transit backup/in-between, the more people will feel comfortable using them. 
So, if it’s cheaper to rideshare, and a good many drivers are only driving to offset the cost of their vehicle… Obviously what we are doing is creating economic pressure against vehicle ownership. If people have to pay per ride, they will definitely be more reserved in number of trips they take. People will be more apt to take the train and rideshare home from the station. People will definitely think about walking when weather permits. When surge pricing is in effect, there is even more incentive to split the fare with others. I wouldn’t even be surprised if platforms soon enable a single person to accept a ride with another solo rider heading in the same direction, so as to allow the riders to split the fare and maximize the vehicle usage. “Oh, like UberPOOL?” my girl asks. There ya go. 

I guess I chased the rabbit a bit on that one, but the point is that decreasing traffic density does not depend on regulating providers. The same number of people will still be on the road, no matter what you cap. If we want to ease traffic jams and reduce emissions, we have to increase the rider:vehicle ratio. In layman’s terms: we need more people sharing vehicles instead of idling away as single occupants in Hummers and SUVs. It’s the same reason semi trucks are so bad for traffic: one person taking up 2 to 6 vehicle spaces (which could be transporting maybe 6 to 18 cubicle ants via rideshare). It’s the same reason for making a HOV lane. 

Okay, I’ve scratched my anti-oil industry itch. Now, let me tell you why ridesharing is socially responsible for me, the Uber driver. I got a bit overconfident a few years ago and got a car in anticipation of graduating engineering school. Then I got hung up and didn’t finish. Car payments and student loans, no paper. I imagine there are many others in similar shoes. I’ve talked to them across retail and grocery store counters, not wanting to nudge what is probably just as painful a topic for them as it is for me. Yep, graduation rate of 76%, and I landed in the 24% category. How do I handle all that debt? Work myself into a nervous alcoholic wreck hoping for a bonus that I only get half of? Really, what this is driving toward is all the ways that Uber and Lyft are ideal ’employers’ so here it goes. 

I clock on when I want, for as long as I want. Some days, I’m feeling it and after pulling a Benjamin, I keep driving for my second. Some days, my life needs me more than Uber, so I just don’t drive. I’ve worked food service, and it made me hate people. I make a damn fine espresso, thank you, and I don’t need my balls busted over your perception of how hot the mug is. For the vast majority of rideshare trips, the least pleasant folks are quietly absorbed in their phones and more than half are quite jovial. Yeah, we all have that one here and there. However, all said, I rarely ever feel I’m just not in the mood to go drive. That says a lot when you consider how many people dread the workweek. Maybe the very best thing about the platforms is the ‘open door relationship’. Uber doesn’t care if I Lyft, even if I work for both at the same time! They also don’t care if I’m advertising my own business/services apart from or in competition with them. They’re cool with me having any kind of employment I want outside of driving for them. It’s not you, it’s me. I need to have jobs with other people for a while. Really. Uber doesn’t tell me I might get a bonus if I work hard enough. They email an incentive, I drive, and there are clear qualifiers for the incentive so I know if I achieved it or not. Dealing with unsavory people? I know if I dole out a 1 star rating and send an email with details, that person might be using Yellow Cab next time. For all of us stuck in Paperless Purgatory, educated but lacking the income-demanding degree, these platforms enable us to keep fighting for a middle class existence. I realize I could get by with an older Honda or something instead of wasting money on a new car. That would also require I get some kind of regular job since the platforms only accept new vehicles. Newer than 5 years almost guarantees that you are making payments on it, and we Americans need as much debt relief as possible! On the other hand, the rental car program is the best way for many pub-trans bound folks to gain the independence of their own vehicle. Trimet was how I rolled for a while, too. A couple months of not paying the pump, insurance, maintenance, parking fees, etc. made me quickly realize just how much money goes into a car. It’s quite liberating. Of course, when I just had to get out of town, I’d rent a cheap little coupe. To own or not to own is the question; ridesharing is the answer. 

It offsets vehicle costs for owners, is cheaper than owning for others, and provides a transportation-independent job at a decent living wage. I agree with much of what ezdriver boasts for the benefits of Uber. 

Finally, I thought you’d like to hear more about earnings before I close. My girlfriend puts in about 45 hour weeks on average and after the network fees takes home around $700/week driving with Lyft. I do a bit less driving, but the two platforms are pretty comparable. Don’t go rushing to divide and poo-poo the ‘wage’ though. This is what goes into the bank. This isn’t gross $15/hr and get rolled for taxes and social security before your take-home. Also, this is strictly an average, and it is so low because of the hours she chooses to drive. I put up with worse weather, more spilling and vomiting, and drive in more difficult places. My average is closer to $25/hour. I always tell new drivers to map out the times of days and calculate earnings as they go. After a couple weeks, there will be clear patterns to schedule around, after that it’s just a matter of deciding what you are trying to achieve. I set a threshold for myself of $18/hour, if I know a certain time frame averages 12, I won’t drive. Important to note here is how it comes out during tax time. As a vehicle owner, the fuel, maintenance, payments, and other expenses get factored in. All of it, as well as the network fees, get written off. Even if you only take the standard 55 cent/mile deduction, for most cars, that covers almost all of the fuel. One interesting tax hack here is that my milage is deductible starting from and ending at my driveway. That means that if I log off on the other side of town, the drive home is still covered. 

I walked away from a job paying $4k per month salary. That would first get broken down by taxes and child support. I got to take home less than $2300 and that’s without any elected payroll deductions. Then, because I love giving myself to my employer *cough* I also put up with 2 to 3 hours per day commuting. That commute, without ridesharing, cost me every penny in car payments, fuel, and insurance after taxes. This is a real big deal considering the cost hits me after my paycheck has been ravaged, and maybe even delayed. 

Vehicle costs ring up to about 30% of a person’s budget, and no doubt the main reason to have one is for commuting to work, which very likely doesn’t care how much of a burden car ownership might be. Mostly, employers expect you to shoulder the responsibility of a car as if no distance should be too great to travel for such an opportunity. It’s also been proven that long commutes are the #1 reason for people to quit their jobs. A gig like this at least ensures you are able to secure transportation and have a ready source of income. 

One last point on Uber-Lyft-ing, is that I still have my reservations. Uber is constantly under fire in the media. Although the ridesharing idea works well, and Uber sure capitalizes on it well, I wish my car qualified for Lyft. I wouldn’t use the Uber platform nearly as much, if at all. Between their glass ceiling and constant media blasts, I would rather Lyft. 

I fully support the emerging ‘gig economy’ and am glad that these platforms can exist to help make solo business a possibility. It’s not for everyone, of course. I don’t intend on driving for a living; it’s simply the most reliable way to break into independent employment. Even as I write this, I am itching to set my sights on reviving other income efforts. One thing at a time, though! I will have my third budget blog up soon, with some graphs for visual relief. Then, my blog will be back to the good stuff! You deserve an award for making it through this one, too! 

Author: Goose Andeluse

Compulsive maker and fowl carpenter.

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